Savory Schmeres

This pair of recipes may be used as dips, schmeres, spreads, dollops, or any other way you can think of to serve them. I personally like them in small dollops on a cheese cracker or spread on biscuits hot out of the oven.

BACON JALAPENO JAM
Prep Time: 30 minuntes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Serves: 10

Ingredients
1¾ lb. thickly sliced bacon, cut into 1” pieces
2 jalapeño peppers, thinly sliced
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
? cup cider vinegar
½ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
¼ cup pure maple syrup
½ cup strong brewed coffee
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 bags (large) Kettle Brand Original Chips

Directions
Cook bacon over medium-high heat in a large skillet, stirring occasionally, until bacon is lightly browned, about 25 minutes. Transfer bacon pieces to a large plate or tray to drain.

Saute jalapeño, onion and garlic in bacon fat until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes, then add the vinegar, brown sugar, maple syrup and coffee.

Bring mixture to a boil, stirring and scraping up browned bits from skillet.

In a crockpot, combine the bacon and the vinegar mixture, stirring briefly to combine.
Cook on high, uncovered, for 1 hour.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and two tablespoons of the cooking liquid; stir into the bacon crockpot mixture.

Continue to cook on high, uncovered, for 3 hours. Carefully transfer mixture to a blender or food processor and pulse mixture until coarsely chopped.

Transfer to a serving bowl and allow to cool before serving with chips.

Mixture can easily be made and refrigerated in an airtight container up to 2 weeks before using.
MEATY ONION RELISH
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 6 hours
Serves: 10

Ingredients 
2 cups drippings from pork loin, roast beef or other roasted meat
4 large sweet yellow onions
1tsp black pepper
1tsp garlic powder or minced garlic

Directions

Peel and dice onions.

In crock pot, combine all ingredients. Set on medium and allow to cook until all onions are soft and clear.

Turn heat to high for 10 minutes. Add arrowroot powder and allow to thicken, stirring often.

Allow to cool before placing in a bowl to serve.

Relish may be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks before using. Also good for canning project.

This relish relies on the spices used for the roasted meat as a major part of the flavoring. It will be a little different with every batch, depending on the drippings. Bits of meat and fat may be included, adding to the savory flavors.

 

I apologize for the lack of photos, but these were oddities in my kitchen. Hopefully you will give them a spin and let us know what you think.

Enjoy!

–Ann Cathey

Advertisements

Crock Pot Adventures – Butternut and Sausage

This week’s Crock-Pot Adventure is once again based on marked down finds during a grocery run. Selecting items seemingly at random to combine into a meal is always fun and often challenging to the adventurous cook.

Butternut Squash & Sausage sounds pretty simple, and likely something that would take a couple of hours and two or three separate pans to create. I prefer to use my crock-pot whenever possible to create one dish meals. It leaves less of a mess and fewer pots to scrub in the wake of the meal.

The squash, Pancetta, onion and mushrooms all came from selected markdowns discovered during the weekly grocery run. While you might find all of these things in one store, our weekly run starts at Aldi, them moves to WalMart, Kroger, and sometimes HEB. The stores are all along a one mile stretch of road here in Conroe, making it fairly simple to make all those stops. The dishes that come out of our kitchen have shown a remarkable upswing in variety and healthier ingredients since this shopping regimen began.

Prep Time: About an hour (includes veggie handling)
Cook Time: 4-6 hours on low
Servings: 6-8

INGREDIENTS:
Olive oil or canola cooking spray
1 butternut squash, seeded, peeled and diced
1/2 medium sweet onion, diced
4 oz Pancetta, diced
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 pkg mushrooms, crimini or button, sliced or quartered
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp dry parsley
1 tsp garlic powder
18 oz sausage, cut to preference
Salt & pepper to taste

DSC_0676Set up your crock-pot and insert a liner if desired. Lightly spray sides and bottom with oil.

 

 

 

DSC_0677

Arrange the squash, onion, Pancetta, diced garlic, and mushrooms in layers, spread to cover the bottom of the crock. Sprinkle dry spices evenly across the top of everything.

DSC_0679

Lay in sausage in an even layer. I cut 2 links into quarters to arrange around the sides of the pot, then laid the remaining 2 links along the top middle, as shown below.

DSC_0681

Seal up the crock and cook on low for 6-8 hours, depending on your pot’s heat levels.DSC_0683

DSC_0684

DSC_0685

 

Serving suggestions:
When serving, add a sprinkle of grated Cheddar on top of the veggies for an added burst of flavor.

 

Offer garlic toast or crescent rolls on the side. Biscuits are also good, split and covered in the veggies.

 

The juices from this dish are fairly clear and may be used to just stir the whole thing into a soup style serving.

 

 

 

Other suggestions:
DSC_0678Reserve the seeds when you open and core a squash like the butternut or acorn varieties. I do this and give the seeds to a friend who is very into gardening and raising vegetables. Simply pop the seeds into a zippy bag and refrigerate it until you can deliver it to your gardening buddy or plant it yourself.

Enjoy!

–Ann Cathey

Tricks and Tips – Onions

Nearly everyone has, had, or will have onions in their kitchen. Likewise, we’ve heard lots of things about onions making mom cry, or burning when you try to caramelize them. I was lucky enough to have grandmothers and a mom who cooked all the time, so I learned some nifty tricks at their sides.

Cut Onions without Tears

The best thing you can do to cut onions is to ensure that you have a sharp knife. A dull blade will put unwanted pressure on the meat of the onion, causing the “juices” to be released on the cutting board rather than cooked into your dish. This “juice” contains chemicals that may cause you to react – by crying.

It has also been suggested that you can place the onion to be sliced up into the freezer for about 15 minutes immediately prior to cutting. Supposedly this will cause the internal moisture to begin to freeze and not get as messy while cutting.

Personally I like to lop off the ends, peel away the paper layers, rinse both onion and cutting board in cold water, then slice the onion however I need it quickly with a sharp blade. Once it’s cut, I don’t let it sit around – it goes immediately into the mix, pot, pan, or other receptacle for cooking.

Rinse Your Raw Onion

To take the edge off a sliced onion, allow it to soak in cold water and blot it dry before you scatter it on salads or layer it onto burgers and other sandwiches. This is also true for diced onion that you are preparing for onion dip, salsa, or guacamole. If left unrinsed, the onion may start to put off a sulfurous gas that can completely ruin the dish.

Remember this about onions: the amount of sulfur in the soil where they are grown, and thereby the amount an onion absorbs while growing, is in direct proportion to the amount of heat in a given onion.

Caramelizing Onions

An old restaurant trick to caramelizing onions is to drop a little sugar into a dry skillet and cook it until it is a deep golden brown. Add your onions with a little pinch of baking soda and cook over a medium heat. Be sure to have some water handy, too. Add a tablespoon as needed to keep your onions from burning.

If you are cooking a roast in a crock pot, scatter a layer of thinly sliced onions int he bottom of the pot before laying in the roast. They will cook up in the meat’s juices to give you an wonderful topping for slices of roast, or an excellent au jus for sandwiches the next day.

 

Try these out and see how they work for you. Drop us a line here at TheWanderingTexans and let us know your results!

— Ann Cathey

Taking a Look at Onions

You see them everywhere: the grocery, sandwiches, soups, guacamole, fajitas… They seem to be inescapable. If you can eat them, they are really good for your health, too.

Let us take a look at the ubiquitous onion (Allium cepa).

There are numerous varieties of onions available. We will pare them down to the simplest categories, some of their best uses, and if I can hunt them down fairly quickly, names of a few of the varieties.

The “heat” in an onion is in direct proportion to the amount of sulfur in the soil and the amount of water available to the individual plantings. Apparently ANY onion can be made more or less strong by controlling these two conditions.

SWEET ONION
From Wiki: A sweet onion is a variety of onion that is not pungent. Their mildness is attributable to their low sulfur content and high water content when compared to other onion varieties.
-Vidlia, Texas 1015, Walla Walla, Sweetie Sweet, Sunbrero, Carzalia, and several others
-best for frying as onion rings
-use for: onion rings, gratins, roasted vegetables

RED ONION
From Wiki: Red onions, sometimes called purple onions, are cultivars of the onion with purplish red skin and white flesh tinged with red.These onions tend to be medium to large in size and have a mild to sweet flavor. They are often consumed raw, grilled or lightly cooked with other foods, or added as color to salads. They tend to lose their redness when cooked.
-Turda, Tropea, Wethersfield
-best for eating raw
-use for: guacamole, pickled onion, salads, sandwiches

WHITE ONION
From Wiki: White onion is a type of dry onion that has a pure white skin and a sweet, mild white flesh. This onion is used in Mexican foods or complementing the flavors of other ingredients. The onion can be sautéed to a dark brown color and served to provide a sweet and sour flavor to other foods.
-Super Star, Texas Early White, Ringmaster, White Bermuda
-crunchiest and most peppery
-use for: salsas, chutneys, stir-fries, fajitas

YELLOW ONION
From Wiki: The yellow onion or brown onion is a variety of dry onion with a strong flavor. White inside, its layers of papery skin have a yellow-brown color.It has a rich onion taste and is fit for food dishes like French onion soup. Yellow onions are typically available throughout the year. This onion is higher in sulfur than the white onion, which gives it a stronger, more complex flavor.
-Granex, Highlander, Texas Legend
-best all-around cooking onion
-use for: meat roasts, braised meat dishes, sauces, soups, stews

SHALLOT
From Wiki: The skin colour of shallots can vary from golden brown to gray to rose red, and their off-white flesh is usually tinged with green or magenta.
-Pikant, Atlas and Ed’s Red
-milder and more subtle
-use for: vinaigrettes, egg casseroles, garnishes, pickling for martini onions, Asian/Middle Eastern/Southern European/British dishes

There are a lot of other onions out there. If you can lay your hands of varietals such as a Wakegi, I’itoi, scallions, or any heotrs with names you don’t recognize – try them!

— Ann Cathey

Quiche!

Quiche, while it sounds all French and difficult, is actually a very simple dish. I bless the Frenchman who invented it. I could get into the history and etymology, but I’d rather just link you to Wikipedia rather than quote them heavily.

Quiche is typically a pie-style crust filled with meat, cheese, seafood, and/or vegetables. It is often served as tarts, mini-tarts, and is a popular party food.

Quiche with crab, Swiss Cheese, and tomato

Quiche with crab, Swiss Cheese, and tomato

My favorite quiche recipe is from Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, and is courtesy of William Rolle, owner of Cafe Rolle in Sacramento, CA. I often use a pre-made crust, much to my shame. My daughter can whip up a delightful crust every time, but I do not seem to have a good hand for it.

With this recipe, I have literally walked into my kitchen, started pulling random items from the refrigerator and cabinets, a pie crust from the freezer, and about 45 minutes later have a hot quiche in hand to share with my foodie partner. He loves quiche!

Quiche Provencial (tomatoes and Swiss cheese)

Quiche Provençale (tomatoes and Swiss cheese)

Some simple and delightful combinations have included:
• Quiche Lorraine (ham and Swiss)
• Quiche au fromage (cheese, to your taste)
• Quiche aux champignons (mushrooms)
• Provençale (tomatoes)
• Florentine (spinach)
• Florentine Special (spinach, grilled onions and mushrooms)
• Ham and cheddar
• Bacon and any cheese you like
• Breakfast (hashbrowns, bacon or sausage)
• Southwestern (taco meat, Monterrey Jack cheese, chilis, salsa on top)

Quiche with roasted carrots and asparagus

Quiche with roasted carrots and asparagus

Of course quiche requires eggs. Adding a little cream or half and half as Chef Rolle’s recipe requires is essential. The eggs will smooth out and maintain a light a fluffy texture, rather than becoming hard and rubbery when cooking.

If you are looking for a light and quick breakfast or brunch idea, you can’t go wrong with quiche.

 

— Ann Cathey

 

Manager Markdowns Make Magnificent Meals

My partner in food and I went grocery shopping today, and wound up finding a lot of interesting items on clearance. We typically go to as many as five local groceries to find things we like. Fortunately, those five stores are all within a 2-3 mile strip along the north loop in Conroe.

To some people “manager markdown”,  “quick sale” or “clearance” marked on food items means the food is nasty or is beyond saving. Not so! For vegetables and fruits, they have not “gone bad”, but are no longer attractive in one way or another. For meat, it means you must either cook it when you get home or freeze it. Meat cannot legally be sold here in the United States if it is aged past human consumption, according to several grocery butchers I have spoken with.

On this week’s shopping adventure, we caught some interesting items in the mark downs at several stores that happened to lend themselves nicely to a single meal.

It all got started with a bottle of inexpensive Winking Owl Merlot at our first stop. I wasn’t sure what we would do with it, but I cook with red wines frequently. That made the bottle a good investment.

DSC_0204We still had no dinner plan while shopping at the second store. This rapidly changed when we found a two and half pound package of boneless pork loin backribs marked down for quick sale. Half of this was put into the freezer after we got home for later use.

This was followed by a package of “gourmet blend” mushrooms, crimini, shiitake and oyster, marked down at another store. I thoroughly enjoy crimini and shiitake, though do not recall having oyster mushrooms before. My partner told me he trusted my judgement as I reached for some tiny, “three-color” cipollini onions and he picked up a small bunch of fresh, thin, tops-on carrots.

Upon arriving home, everything was cleaned and cut appropriately. We loaded the carrots into the bottom of a crock-pot. Next in went the meat. I stuffed some roasted garlic (also bought on clearance and stored in my freezer last month) into the cuts in the top of the meat. The finely sliced onions were sprinkled on next. The mushrooms were already cleaned and broken down into smaller pieces, so they were sprinkled over everything else. A half-bottle of wine was poured over everything, gently so as not to disturb the layers. A sprinkle of Herbes de Province and the pot was sealed and allowed to work it’s magic.

DSC_0203We had to wait several hours while the dish cooked, but we were able to distract ourselves with some lovely Boar’s Head Edam, also found on clearance today. The cheese was served at room temperature with “woven” wheat crackers. It took the edge off while we waited on our meal.

DSC_0208Finally, the wait was over. The delicious aroma of the cooking pork had filtered through most of the house, teasing us with anticipation. I almost burned myself in my haste to get that pot open and get at the treasure inside.

The meat was cooked through, as I insist on with pork, and the carrots were firm without being crunchy. My mouth was watering in anticipation as we plated up.

DSC_0211Dinner was served up with some leftover fingerling potatoes roasted in butter, garlic and dill from the night before. The saltiness of the potatoes was a good contrast to the sweetness of the carrots and mushrooms.

DSC_0215

Keeping your eyes peeled at the grocery for mark downs can lead to some interesting meals in the kitchen. Give it a try and see if you don’t manage to save a few bucks and find some new favorites!

— Ann Cathey